If you have been to the doctor recently, you may have heard the term BMI used. It stands for Body Mass Index. BMI is used to help determine if someone is in a healthy weight range. This tool has been around for a long time; since the 1800’s. Much like today, it was used to measure obesity. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that BMI became a standardized tool used and accepted all over the world. In a nutshell, BMI determines if your weight is within a healthy range based on comparative measurements of height and weight.
How Is BMI Calculated?
BMI is determined by measuring a person’s weight (in pounds) * 703 divided by height (in inches squared). The calculation is slightly different if using kilograms and inches. So a person weighing 160 lbs at 5 ft 8 in would have a BMI of 24 (160*703/68*68=24.33).
According to the BMI guidelines, normal weight is a BMI of 18.5-24.9. Overweight is considered a BMI of 25-29.9. Any number over 30 is considered obese.
Why Is BMI Measured?
BMI measurements are not simply a tool used to measure obesity. BMI measurements are used to also determine a person’s level of health or risk of health issues. Research has shown a link between obesity and many health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, peripheral vascular disease, and diabetes, just to name a few. But the BMI calculator is not without its flaws.
The Concern With BMI As A Tool
The main issues many people have with BMI as a measuring tool is that it does not take into consideration body composition or sex.
An athlete who eats a healthy diet, such as a bodybuilder, football player, or runner, probably has a different body composition of fat and lean muscle when compared to a person who does not exercise, has a sedentary life, and does not make healthy food choices. 200-pounds of lean muscle (think bodybuilder or power-lifter) vs 200 pounds of fat…not the same. Or, using the same 200-pound weight, if on a person who is 4 ft 5 inches tall, vs a person 6 ft 7 inches tall, the weight distribution would not be the same. Also, weight distribution is not the same for men and women, even if they are the same height and weight. So for those who are heavily muscled and at the extremes of the height chart (very tall or very short), using BMI alone should not be the only indicator used to determine obesity or health risk.
Why is BMI important?
Well, many health and life insurance agencies are looking at this number and using it to determine your rates. Since BMI is used as a guideline or tool to determine health risk, those with a higher BMI are at risk of being charged more or even being denied certain coverages. Think of it like this, a person who is considered obese is more likely to have diabetes. Those with diabetes have to see the doctor often, utilize equipment daily for blood sugar measurements, need medication, have a higher risk of blindness, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, ambulatory problems, amputation, etc. All of these things represent the dollars that the insurance company will have to spend. Does every diabetic person end up with all of the side effects mentioned? Of course not. But the chances are, without a doubt, higher. Compare this to a person with a normal BMI whose health risk is low. They may see their doctor once a year, are on few if any medications. This equates to little money being spent on the client. Now, this is not fair, but it is real.
Do BMI Measurements Really Matter?
Again, when looking at BMI alone to determine obesity and health risk, with respect to a healthy, muscle-bound athlete, it’s not a fair or balanced assessment. Also, people with a normal BMI could, based on genetics, have a very high risk of cardiovascular problems, diabetes (yes, even skinny people can be diabetic), etc. But looking at BMI alone does not take this into consideration.
The main point is that BMI is a handy tool, when used along with other assessments, to measure a person’s obesity and overall health risk. It’s easy for anyone to use and could be used as an easy way to keep track of your progress should you be on a journey to lose or maintain weight.